Physical activity and mental health

Physical activity can improve your mental wellbeing. It is defined as any body movement that works your muscles and requires more energy than resting. Walking, running, dancing, swimming, yoga, and gardening are a few examples of physical activity.

Exercise is a type of physical activity that's planned and structured. Lifting weights, taking an aerobics class and playing on a sports team are examples of exercise1.

Physical activity is good not only for your body but it's great for your mind too

Research has shown that physical activity releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good - boosting your self-esteem, helping you concentrate as well as sleep, look and feel better. Not bad for something we can quite easily do for free!

Being active doesn’t have to mean taking out an expensive gym membership, jogging at 5am or sporting spandex. There are so many ways to be active and they can all help to improve your mental health.
Taking part in physical activities can be a great way to meet people. They can also offer us the chance of taking a well-deserved break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Leading an active life can help to improve your feelings of self-worth and foster confidence. Taking part in a form of physical activity that you really enjoy can give you a goal to aim for and a sense of purpose. 
A few benefits of being physically active are: 

  • less tension, stress and mental fatigue 
  • a natural energy boost 
  • improved sleep 
  • a sense of achievement 
  • focus in life and motivation 
  • less anger or frustration 
  • a healthy appetite 
  • better social life 
  • having fun
  • detoxifying the body.

How active do I need to be? 

For adults (19-64 years), aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five times a week2.For children and young people (5-18 years), a minimum of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity is recommended.3It may sound like a lot, but it isn’t as daunting as it first appears. 'Moderate intensity activity' means being energetic enough that you breathe a little heavier than normal, but aren’t out of breath and feel warmer, but don’t end up hot and sweaty.

Vigorous activity includes those that cause you to breathe much harder, your hearts to breathe rapidly and  makes engaging in conversation difficult. Some of these activities are running and sports (e.g. swimming, football).

You don’t have to jump in at the deep end. Build up slowly, at a pace that suits you. You might like to do 30 minutes per day, or you may prefer to split your time into more manageable sessions. It's entirely up to you! The point is to just get active and avoid long periods of inactivity. 

Getting started 

Consult our Let’s Get Physical booklet for useful practical guidelines on how to get started and maintain your level of physical activity.  

References

1-National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (26 Sept. 2006). What is Physical Activity? Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/phys/

2-NHS Choices (2011). Factsheet 4: Physical activity guidelines for adults 19-64. [online] Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...

3-NHS Choices (2011). Factsheet 3: Physical activity guidelines for children and young people (5-18 years). [online] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Documents/children-and-young-people-5... [Accessed 10 Sep. 2015].